Manitoba·CBC Investigates

Berklee College puts Steve Kirby on leave after allegations of sexual harassment at U of Manitoba

A former University of Manitoba jazz student is angry with the way the university handled an internal investigation into Prof/ Steve Kirby’s conduct, and says it didn’t do enough to create a safe environment for female students.

Student alleges U of Manitoba mishandled complaint against former jazz prof

The University of Manitoba said jazz Prof. Steve Kirby retired in late June, after being on leave for six months. (CBC)

A former University of Manitoba jazz student is angry with the way the university handled an internal investigation into Prof. Steve Kirby's conduct, and says it didn't do enough to create a safe environment for female students.

On Thursday, the U.S. college Kirby now works for said he has been placed on leave while it conducts its own investigation.

"I think it would have been inconvenient for the University of Manitoba to investigate it unless they really had to," the former University of Manitoba student said. "The system was set up in such a way that Steve Kirby had a lot of power, and virtually no accountability."

CBC is protecting her identity because of the nature of the allegations.

She is part of a group of current and former students who made allegations of sexual misconduct against Kirby in February. 

An internal investigation report obtained by CBC News concluded her allegations of lewd comments and unwanted touching, hugging and kissing had merit and constituted sexual harassment.

"It was a violation of trust, frankly," the student said. "It's a lack of respect for me as a human being. It's an unacceptable form of contact between a teacher and student."

The university said Kirby retired from the University of Manitoba in late June, after being on leave for six months. He had been at the U of M since 2003 and was known internationally as a jazz bassist.

He has since taken a teaching position at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

CBC has not been able to reach Kirby for comment.

The former student had one credit remaining to complete her degree but said that because of the ongoing harassment, she couldn't bring herself to go back and complete the program.

"I couldn't stand to be in that university for one more minute," she said. "I was crying before my lessons. I was angry. I felt depressed all through my final year, especially. Which is when I was in greatest contact with Steve. It was an extremely vulnerable time for me."

Steve Kirby later joined the faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston. (CBC)

The alleged harassment began in her first year of the program, she said, when she was performing at a local restaurant with the school ensemble.

"Steve said, 'I love the way you move on stage, I love to watch you on stage.' And that sort of raised the first red flag for me," she said.

"The teacher-student relationship is pretty privileged, especially in the jazz faculty. It's a small faculty."

"It was different with Steve. I would enter into his office for private lessons, and he would close a soundproof door. The curtains were closed. He would be saying these comments to me. It was an extremely uncomfortable experience," she said.

"I would cry before our lessons. I would cry the night before. I was afraid. I was angry that I had to endure this kind of thing. I would define it as being a hostile environment."

Allegations ruled as having merit

The university's internal investigation report concluded each of her allegations had merit.

In one instance, the report noted Kirby was alleged to have said to the student, "Every man has a primal urge to 'f--k anything that moves,' men are animalistic and every man has to battle to keep that under control." He then referenced how he has to keep that urge as he is a musician and a wolf, and that he gets what he wants.

Kirby responded "that he did talk about male sexual energy as being a catalyst for creativity using the wolf analogy and submits that there is no sexual charge to the conversation," the report said.

It said Kirby responded that, "These comments are earthy but not intended as a sexual come-on; it is a reference point for channeling creative energy."

Placed on leave at Berklee

According to the report, Kirby denied many of the points raised by the complainant and "denies all claims made of any sexual innuendo or outright sexual approaches."

After the university's investigation wrapped up, the former student decided to file a formal complaint with Winnipeg police. A Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson said police cannot confirm whether they are investigating Kirby.

When the complainant later learned Kirby had joined the faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston, she said she "was sickened."

In a statement sent Wednesday to CBC News, Berklee College said it had just recently learned of the allegations against Kirby at the University of Manitoba and will continue to gather information.

On Thursday, Berklee said it had placed Kirby on leave while that investigation is underway.

"The employee has been placed on leave pending our review and assessment," said Jay Kennedy, vice-president for academic affairs and vice-provost at Berklee, in a statement to CBC.

"It is our practice not to comment publicly on internal personnel matters out of respect for all involved and we have nothing further to add at this time," said Kennedy.

He reiterated Berklee's "commitment to fostering a safe and respectful environment for our community members."

The University of Manitoba said that due to privacy legislation, it would not discuss or publicly disclose the circumstances surrounding the departure of employees.

In a statement sent to CBC Thursday, Jazz Winnipeg executive director Lynne Stefanchuk said Kirby is still a board member for the organization, which produces the annual TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.

"We take issues surrounding misconduct and harassment incredibly seriously. This type of behaviour has no place in our organization and will not be tolerated from anyone we work or associate with," the statement said.

"These allegations are deeply concerning to our organization and we are taking steps [to] address them."

Safety and respect

University of Manitoba public affairs executive director John Danakas said in a statment to CBC the university "deeply respects the concerns raised by the student and the feelings expressed.

"As an institution, the university is committed to constantly improving its policies and procedures. The experiences of those directly involved informs that effort."

"Dealing with such matters is always challenging and requires navigating sensitive areas, including rights, interests, privacy and confidentiality," said Danakas.

Student alleges U of M mishandled sexual harassment complaint against jazz prof Steve Kirby

5 years ago
Duration 3:29
A former University of Manitoba jazz student is angry with the way the university handled an internal investigation into Prof. Steve Kirby's conduct, and says it didn't do enough to create a safe environment for female students.

"Importantly, critical supports are in place to assist students and others. The University of Manitoba strives to be a community that supports individuals who disclose and that builds a culture of safety, respect, consent, prevention and education."

The former student said she felt it was important to speak publicly about her experience.

"I've heard of this happening in other universities, other educational institutions. This is not limited just to the University of Manitoba, but no one talks about it and that gives the people who are doing these behaviours ... their power," she said.

"I don't think that I have anything to be ashamed of. I don't think any of this was my fault. I just want to make sure the campus is safe for the young women in the program right now and continues to be safe for any young women who continue to be in the program in future."

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